Ylva111's Blog

Fast track mail, power of opera and a discovery at the RA

October 13, 2017
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The Postal Museum opened in London in June and is on track to become a top attraction. Not so much for its exhibitions but for the Mail Rail experience – a trip in the miniature mail trains which ran under London’s streets for 75 years.  The tunnels were built in the 1930s to avoid traffic congestion.  That’s hardly improved but the level of mail, which once stood at 3.6 billion items per year, has declined considerably.

The new museum is located on two sites in Farringdon, with the Museum and Café in a new building, and across the road, backing onto the old Mount Pleasant sorting office, the Mail Rail experience. We started with a coffee in the already popular museum café and then moved on to the exhibition.  The first part covers the history of postal services as they developed during the reign of Henry VIII from ad hoc royal deliveries to regular mail coaches across the country.  This section was rather noisy with audio commentaries and interactives aimed, it seemed, mainly at children.  But as we progressed into a mail service for all, through the invention of the Penny Black stamp in 1840 by Rowland Hill, there was more information, a section on the two world wars, and excellent interactives and films which explored individual subjects in depth, for example, the introduction of postcodes.

Towards the end there is a temporary exhibition focusing on what an individual letter might mean with examples from across the world. Here I expected more information on the organisation’s past as well as looking to the future – the separation of the Post Office into Royal Mail and British Telecommunications, privatisation, what’s happening to post offices and the impact of the digital explosion.  Maybe that will come later.

Across the road the Mail Rail exhibition is located in the original basement premises of the network with more history displays on the development of the underground train service for mail bags and also the real trains with Royal Mail carriages where post was sorted overnight as they sped north. You can try this for yourself in a “moving” carriage! Some people will remember the Great Train Robbery of 1963 which has its own display.  Book early if you wish to experience the ride down the dark tunnel!  Well worth it, apparently, although your blogger did not try it this time. http://www.postalmuseum.org


Power of opera

Opera: Power, Passion and Politics, the latest exhibition at the V&A, is a wonderful visual and audio experience. The designers have taken full advantage of the new underground space unveiled last month – a huge plain box –  and created seven distinct areas exploring the magic of opera.

Your headphones vibrate with music as you walk through the exhibition and wall posters provide information. Monteverdi’s Venice starts the show, which then moves to Handel’s London, stopping later in Vienna.  Here a scene from the Marriage of Figaro is played out on the screen with the wonderful music on your headphones.  Then it’s on to Milan and Verdi’s Nabucco – revealing the power of the collective voice for Italian unification.  Paintings, costumes and other objects in each city area illustrate the theme of passion and politics.

As we reach the 20th century a chaise long is the centre piece, while the gruesome but wonderful Salome is shown on the screen, followed in the next section by equally brutal scenes from Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – a murderous story in Stalin’s Russia.  Plenty of passion here!

There is so much more to experience, so allow plenty of time for this exhibition, linger and enjoy the music. It continues until 25 February 2018.  www.vam.ac.uk

Footnote from the Royal Academy

On a re-visit to Matisse’s Studio – my favourite exhibition this year (closing on 12 November), your blogger discovered the new Ladies toilets – top-marks to the RA for space and comfort…..the big redevelopment rolls on.

More from me at my website to ylvafrench.co.uk